Guest post by Kristina Shull, Lecturer at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Irvine. Her work explores the origins of prison privatization and current immigration detention trends in the United States in the Reagan Administration’s response to Latin American and Caribbean migration in the early 1980s. She also explores how the circulation of nativist rhetoric informs immigration and foreign policy-making, legitimizing the detention center as a site of punishment and deterrence. This post is the fourth installment of the Border Criminologies Themed Week on Deportation Threat, Realities, and Practices in the United States organised by Tanya Golash-Boza.
On 20 June 2014, World Refugee Day, President Barack Obama announced his administration’s plan to resurrect the practice of family detention in response to the United States’ most recent immigration ‘crisis’: an increase in unaccompanied minors and women with children crossing the US-Mexico border fleeing violence in Central America. Obama also requested emergency funding from Congress and broader powers for immigration officials to speed up deportations. A week later, he appeared on ABC’s TV program Good Morning America to deliver ‘our direct message to families in Central America. Do not send your children to the borders. If they do make it, they’ll get sent back.’ Despite arrivals’ asylum claims and a recent court injunction against family detention, the practice continues.
While highly lucrative for investors, the private prison industry has been plagued by scandal and controversy since its inception. Charges against private prisons have remained the same to this day: privatization interferes with detainee access to counsel and the courts, it encourages physical and verbal abuse by guards, and the profit-motive results in a lack of recreational and educational activities, inadequate medical care, overcrowding, and unsanitary living conditions. But the narratives that gave rise to Reagan’s new security state also persist: migrants pose an ongoing threat to the national well-being and undocumented migration must be deterred. Mediating the visibility of ‘unwanted’ migrant populations was an integral part of Reagan’s rightward shift from a ‘welfare’ to a ‘warfare’ state as many of the enforcement structures established to address the perceived Latin American immigration crisis laid foundations for and further accelerated the rise of mass incarceration.
Policymakers should remember that today’s immigration detention system arose out of a specific confluence of circumstances in which a xenophobic American public embraced the tenets of ‘Reaganism.’ Prison privatization, as a result, was adopted hastily and with little scrutiny. What have been the consequences? The separation of families, the entanglement of immigrants and asylum seekers in the criminal justice system, wasteful spending, and even death.
Themed Week on Deportation Threat, Realities, and Practices in the United States:
- Monday, 27 April: Deportation Threat, Realities, and Practices in the United States (T. Golash-Boza)
- Tuesday, 28 April: US Immigration Enforcement at a Crossroads: What Can we Learn from the ‘Secure Communities’ Program? (J.M. Pedroza)
- Wednesday, 29 April: Immigrant Health in la jaula (M.E. Young)
- Thursday, 30 April: ‘A Recession-Proof Industry’: Reagan’s Immigration Crisis and the Birth of the Neoliberal Security State (K. Shull)
- Monday, 4 May: Punishing Immigrants: The Unconstitutional Practice of Punitive Immigration Detention in the United States (C. Wheatley)
- Tuesday, 5 May: ‘From One Police State to Another’: Stories of Deportation from the United States to El Salvador (K. Birch-Maginot)
- Wednesday, 6 May: Welcome Home? Deportation to El Salvador (K. Dingeman-Cerda and E. G. Kennedy)
How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):
Shull, K. (2015) ‘A Recession-Proof Industry’: Reagan’s Immigration Crisis and the Birth of the Neoliberal Security State. Available at: http://bordercriminologies.law.ox.ac.uk/a-recession-proof-industry/ (Accessed [date]).